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A Great, Silly Grin: The British Satire Boom Of The 1960s Paperback – 29 May 2003

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Product details

  • Paperback: 414 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; Reprint edition (29 May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306812053
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306812057
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.4 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,527,729 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Will be the standard work for years to come."

About the Author

Humphrey Carpenter is the award-winning biographer of Dennis Potter, J. R. R. Tolkien, W. H. Auden, and Ezra Pound. He broadcasts regularly on BBC Radio. Carpenter is married with two children and lives in Oxford, England.

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Three years before Macmillan's "never had it so good" speech, in October 1954, a tall, fair-haired, bespectacled twenty-year-old Yorkshireman arrived at Oxford to read Modern History. Read the first page
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By E. Morton on 27 Feb. 2010
Format: Hardcover
By all means a great book. I'm writing my undergraduate dissertation on satire, so have been buying books like this right, left and centre. Unfortunately, I discovered that another book by the same author, 'That Was Satire That Was', is exactly the same book as this, just with a different title and cover. So now I have two books that are exactly the same, down to the letter. So if you're already got or read TWSTW, don't bother!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By David Wineberg on 5 Oct. 2012
Format: Hardcover
The story is not straightforward, which is a major plus. The players pop in and out of the story as they and things develop. It's actually a coherent subject, which I did not expect. There actually was an "era" of satire in Britain, and though satire itself is a cloudy, amorphous concept, Carpenter has woven together all the ingredients of a comprehensive, if not exhaustive history of the concept. That makes this an unusual book, and kept my interest over its 338 pages.

As expected, I learned a great deal about the lives and personalities of the players in Beyond the Fringe, Private Eye and TW3, the three most famous vehicles for satire in the 60s. But of more value was how hey interconnected, for good as well as bad. And of course, how Carpenter sewed them all together in a quilt they did not know they were part of. A most worthwhile endeavour and achievement by Humphrey Carpenter, whose bio of Spike Milligan I've reviewed as well.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 5 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
As Peter Cook used to say... 30 Aug. 2003
By B. A Varkentine - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Just read A Great Silly Grin: The British Satire Boom of the 1960s, by Humprey Carpenter. This period has long been a subject of interest to me despite the fact that I'm too young (and geographically challenged) to have seen most of the programs in the first place.
Besides being a linked series of show business biographies of key figures of the time (The Beyond the Fringe foursome, etc), the book raises some good discussion.
Just how much does satire really matter, if it does at that? As Peter Cook used to say, the peak of satire was 1930's Berlin--and look how much that did to prevent the rise of Hitler.
But the best part of the text may be the final chapter, which paints an unflattering picture of the state of the art in 2000-era Great Britain--and it's sobering how much of it applies to the US as well.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Grin or Grimace? 30 July 2002
By Robert Morris - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Carpenter examines English cultural values during the years immediately following World War Two and focuses specifically on the 1960's when students from Oxford and Cambridge universities (with others) challenged those values with immensely entertaining satire. Theirs were significant contributions to a tradition of creative ridicule which extends back more than 2,500 years. Of course, Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dickens are among those English authors properly renowned for their comic genius but are not usually thought of primarily as social satirists. Throughout the Age of Victoria and well into the 20th century, the British Empire flourished within a somewhat rigid social order, one which (generally) seemed to lack a sense of humor. By 1960, England had become "a bankrupt, defenseless little country run by a ridiculously elderly prime minister" (Harold Macmillan) when Jonathan Miller, Peter Cooke, Dudley Moore, and Alan Bennett introduced "Beyond the Fringe" at the Edinburgh Festival. Out of that developed Private Eye magazine, The Establishment (a men's cabaret featuring satire), and the BBC's That Was the Week That Was. Carpenter devotes substantial attention to Miller, Cooke, Moore, and Bennett as they and others detonated a "boom" of social satire whose reverberations continued through Second City, Monty Python, and Saturday Night Live. Carpenter duly notes the influence of the Goon Show (Millgan, Sellers, et al) as well as American humorists such as Mort Sahl, Mel Brooks, Lenny Bruce, and Tom Lehrer on their English counterparts. Of special interest to me is Carpenter's suggestion that, as England continued its decline among world powers in the 1960s, social satire served as a medication to deaden the pain. At one point, he reminds his reader of Cook's warning that England was then in danger of "sinking giggling into the sea." That has not as yet happened and never will but the image remains vivid nonetheless.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Exhaustive and comprehensive 5 Oct. 2012
By David Wineberg - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The story is not straightforward, which is a major plus. The players pop in and out of the story as they and things develop. It's actually a coherent subject, which I did not expect. There actually was an "era" of satire in Britain, and though satire itself is a cloudy, amorphous concept, Carpenter has woven together all the ingredients of a comprehensive, if not exhaustive history of the concept. That makes this an unusual book, and kept my interest over its 338 pages.

As expected, I learned a great deal about the lives and personalities of the players in Beyond the Fringe, Private Eye and TW3, the three most famous vehicles for satire in the 60s. But of more value was how hey interconnected, for good as well as bad. And of course, how Carpenter sewed them all together in a quilt they did not know they were part of. A most worthwhile endeavour and achievement by Humphrey Carpenter, whose bio of Spike Milligan I've reviewed as well.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The evolution of British satire 3 Jun. 2002
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Humphrey Carpenter's Great, Silly Grin follows contemporary British humor, beginning with the 1960 Edinburgh Festival when a satirical review Beyond the Fringe fostered a new breed of British humor. The evolution of British satire that followed through the 1960s receives close examination in this involving survey.
3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
for Monty Python fans 25 Aug. 2002
By D. P. Birkett - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although it has aspirations to social history this is largely celebrity bio. Those who have an interest in Dudley Mooore, John Cleese, David Frost, Alan Benett, Jonathan Miller and so forth, and who remembember Beyond the Fringe and That Was The Week That Was will find it interesting. The number of characters becomes bewildering and boredom sets in as accounts of the obscure and forgotten multiply. It livens up when it recounts some of the skits we thought funny at the time.
It is perhaps deflating to realize that these satirical iconoclasts owed their initial careers to the British governmemt. They got their starts on the payrolls of the government-sponsored Edinburgh Festival and as employes of the British Broadcasting Corporation. Would they have fared as well in an open marketplace? Were they causes or beneficiaries of the breakdown in censorship in the 1960's? Carpenter touches on some of these questions but is, I think, too much in awe of the genius of those he writes about. While undoubtedly entertaining their talents for writing funny things and doing funny imitations were of a kind that is widespread.
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